Guest Post: My Writing Hero by Jem Lester

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Welcome to the Shtum blog tour!

Today I have a guest post from Jem Lester about his writing hero, Philip Roth and later this week I will be sharing my review of the wonderful Shtum. So, over to Jem:

From ‘Goodbye Columbus’ in 1959 to ‘Nemeses’ in 2010, Philip Roth produced some of the most affecting books I have ever read. The great chronicler of American Jewish life and of American mores, Roth’s body of work stands against anyone’s and has had a big influence on my own writing.

It’s not just that he writes standing up that I find impressive (yes, he does, it’s true), but the feeling I get as a reader that it is effortless, that every brilliant sentence, every paragraph arrives fully formed.

Roth draws heavily on his own background growing up in New Jersey, his parents, high school and characters drawn from a community of often second generation immigrants, in flux and searching for an American identity. You may be able to spot the influence of Philip Roth in the relationship between Georg and Ben – the clash between generations built of wholly different childhood experiences, with competing expectations and influences.

There is something about the way American writers – and Roth in particular – deal with the immigrant experience and Jewishness in general, that has attracted me over the decades. There is nothing whimsical about his portrayals and, I suppose, that has a huge amount to do with place.

Nine of Roth’s novels are narrated by Nathan Zuckerman – a writer, whose life we see unfold across each novel and decades, as he relates the tragic downfall of others. American Pastoral, I Married a Communist and The Human Stain, appeared in the mid-nineties like a whirlwind.

The three Kepesh novels: The Breast and The Professor of Desire from the 1970s and 2001s The Dying Animal follow the life of literature professor David Kepesh, who life is laid waste by his desire and fear of commitment.

Sometimes, Philip Roth fictionalized himself; drawing on a anti-depressant induced breakdown in Operation Shylock, or his brilliant re-imagined history, The Plot Against America, in which Charles Lindberg wins the Presidency ahead of FDR and draws America towards fascism.

Roth ended his writing career with four short novels, collectively called the Nemeses, where he deals with impending death (Everyman), humiliation in an alien world (Indignation), gender and sexuality (The Humbling) and Polio (Nemesis).

Never afraid to tackle uncomfortable topics and controversy, Philip Roth is my writing hero.

About the authorJem Lester c. Catherine Ercilla

Jem Lester was a journalist for nine years and saw the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 – and though there, he denies personal responsibility. He was also the last journalist to interview the legendary Fred Zinnemann, before the director died. He denies responsibility for that too. He taught English and Media studies at secondary schools for nine years. Jem has two children, one of whom is profoundly autistic, and for them he accepts total responsibility. He lives in London with his partner and her two children.  On his inspiration for the book he says: “I think, initially, the idea for Shtum came from the realisation that my own non-verbal, autistic son was more forthright in expressing his wants and needs than I was. Of course, I wanted to dismantle the stereotype of the ‘gifted’ autistic child but at the same time I thought it imperative that the joy and humour of these wonderful, innocent children was recognised and celebrated.”
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